Refilling a Varsity

I believe that we all have addictions. Trying to navigate this vale of tears without a healthy dose of irrational cravings is an impossibility. The key is to chose your addictions.

Good luck.

At any rate, one of my addictions is Fountain Pens. I have no idea why: a childhood memory? The pure gadgetry of the thing? The nerdiness? The relationship to writing? I don’t know why. I only know that I don’t fight it.


In the spectrum of Pen Collectors I am what is referred to as a USER. I don’t care about how expensive a pen is, I simply want to write with it. I don’t care about rarity, or perfect condition, or if someone in time past had their name engraved on their pen (I think this is cool, actually). My favorite thing is to find some beat up old antique caked with dried ink and desk drawer dust at Canton or some other flea market – then disassemble, clean, repair, replace, rebuild, and then, actually write with the thing.

Enter the Varsity.

Modern fountain pens do not, as a general rule, stand up to vintage writing instruments.  There are exceptions.

One interesting specimen is the Pilot Varsity. The Pilot company is a Japanese manufacturer and purveyor of fine pens that can cost thousands of dollars. (their Vanishing Point model is very popular, their expensive shit is sold under the sub-brand Namiki).

The Varsity is one of their low-end models, very low-end. It is disposable. You can find them in office supply stores or some bookstores for around three bucks each.

They even come in packs of seven different colors for about two dollars each.

The crazy thing is, they are great writers. A wet medium line, a surprisingly smooth nib, very reliable, rarely leak. If you want to give writing with a fountain pen a try, this is a great way to do it.

I like the Varsity so much, I decided it was too good to be disposable. When my blue model went dry, I decided to re-fill it.

My favorite color is a bluish-green and I decided to go there, with a slant on the green side. I chose two compatible inks: Private Reserve Spearmint and American Blue. I assembled all my tools: pen, ink, pliers, and an irrigation syringe.


Pen, ink, syringe, pliers.

I grabbed the nib with the pliers and pulled it out – it gave away with a nice firm click. The nib is the metal part of a fountain pen. It sits up against a ribbed plastic bit called a collector. This is what holds a dab of ink up next to the nib so it can go onto the paper quickly. A fountain pen is accurately described as a “Controlled Leak” – the collector is what controls that leak. In the Varsity the steel nib and black plastic collector came out of the clear body in one piece.

Easy. Much better than the method this guy uses.

I washed everything out and put some diluted green and blue ink (mostly green) into the syringe.

Pilot Varsity

Pen, nib and collector removed, cleaned out, ready for new ink.

I was a simple process to squirt the ink back into the body of the Varsity and then push the nib and collector back in. A good shove and it clicked back as it was before.

And now it writes again. I saved myself three dollars (minus the cost of the ink) but that’s not the point.

Varsity Refilled

The Varsity refilled with a sample of the ink color. My handwriting is terrible, it always has been.

Now that I think about it… I don’t actually know what the point is. Points are overrated, I guess. Aren’t they?

A junkie fix for my fountain pen addiction. Not too bad as addictions go.

10 responses to “Refilling a Varsity

  1. Hello. I too love the feel of this pen in my hand. I wish that I had more than two people I write to (because they do not have email. On ocassion, I do write others with this pen because it’s a novety these days…plus, my girlfriend’s a postal carrier and she says they delight in seeing hand written , personalized letters. Thanks for posting this blog. Please visit my blog at I write about a variety of things but most recently letterpress. I have a ruler that came with my 1929 press which has the owner’s name scratched onto it with Christmas decorations. I truly cherish that ruler.

  2. Thanks for this tutorial. I will try this once I get my hands on a Pilot Varsity. I created an eye-dropper out of a Pilot Petit1 and have the o-ring and silicone grease to do the same with a Platinum Preppy (the best cheap pen, IMHO).

    Your color of blue-green, on my monitor at least, looks like a lime green; can detect no blue at all. If you want to try a cool blue/green, try Iroshizuku Syo-Ro. It looks blue while it is wet and then looks green when dry. Hey, I’ll swap you a sample bottle of Syo-Ro for one of American Blue. Let me know!

    • Yeah, the color turned out too green; I was winging it. I’ll have to take a look at the Iroshizuku Syo-Ro. Those Iroshizuku inks are so beautiful but they are so expensive. The greenish turquoise that I like the best is Caribbean Sea by Caran D’ Ache. I bought a sample bottle of it from Pear Tree Pens, and loved it, but haven’t spent the money yet (the Caran D’ Ache bottles are so nice too). I guess that’s not surprising, since I’ve been wanting to find something that reminds me of the water off of Jamaica – I guess “Caribbean Sea” is the right name.

      Email me ( your snail mail address and I’ll send you a sample bottle of American Blue (I’ll use the glass sample bottles from Pear Tree) if you want it. The only problem is that I’ve thinned the American Blue down about 50% (I find most of the Private Reserve inks too saturated and thick and they work a lot better thinned). If you’d rather, I’ve got Waterman Florida Blue (my favorite daily workhorse blue) or some Conway Stewart Turquoise (a beautiful ink, though it is on the blue side of turquoise). Or, if you want some old-school – some vintage Quink Blue- or Skrip Blue-Black I found at antique stores.

    • I was surprised at how easy it was.

      Those pliers are actually not all that big – they are old and rusty and God only knows where I came up with them, but they were the first pair I found in the drawer. Luckily, the Varsity doesn’t seem to be too picky on its pliers.

  3. The method you described here is the same one I use to refill mine. That video you linked to seems over-complicated. Still less involved, though, than the YouTuber who liked the nib on the Varsity and put it in the body of his Preppy in order to make the *Varsity* refillable, basically making a Frankenpen in the process.

    As for the point of refilling the Varsity? The point (nib) is the point. It would be a shame to just toss out a better-than-decent nib and feed. 🙂

    • Yes, the nib on the varsity is pretty good – and I’d like to add that the feed on the things works better than most. My Varsity pens write the first time, every time. I think those stacks of fins you can see through the clear barrel store ink near the nib, like the collector on a Parker “51.”

  4. Thank you so much for posting this technique. I’ve watched a couple videos and ran in the other direction. And I work with syringes as part of my job!!!! Anyway, I used a pair of needlenose (2″) pliers and that satisfying “pop!” happened on the way out, I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned and cleaned and then cleaned some more (Goulet Flush, distilled water), soaked, blew, you know. It was purple. And I’m not kidding, probably 10 years old. I’m back to FP after being gone for a while and I’m using the PV’s on our invoices for personal notes. Gooddog they write smoothly! I chose Diamine Purple Pizzazz, wrapped a Goulet Grip around the nib unit (slightly damaged the non-metal side on extraction), and got the satisfying “pop!” again. It hasn’t started flowing yet, but like Nathan Tardif says, fill it and walk away for 12 hours. I have faith.
    Thank you again. I do it because it pains me to discard something so perfectly useful. Pilot made a great pen. The Metropolitan is one of my current favorites.

    • Thanks for the reply. I’ve never had that much trouble – but I haven’t tried to bring back one with dried ink in it. I use wide pliers rather than needle nose as they tend to leave less of a mark on the plastic feed.

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